Help me be a good art fair vendor!
July 7, 2018 1:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm gonna be one of a couple dozen vendors at an upcoming local arts and crafts fair, and it's my first time doing something like this. I've got my 10 foot by 10 foot spot, a pop up canopy to stick on it, and I'm gonna have a table with stuff on it and a cash box and a credit card reader on my phone. What else should I be thinking about?

The art fair is being run by a local art supply shop and is a one-day, five hour thing a couple weekends from now. It's low-stakes, so I don't need to hyper-optimize this; I'm out fifteen bucks on the booth fee so if I sell a handful of things I'll be way ahead of the game, and it'd probably be counter-productive to go in too deep on buying new stuff for what might be a one-off experience.

Still, I'd like to plan for the in-retrospect-obvious niceties before the retrospect part comes around.

My current plan is:
1. Set up a canopy (it's Portland, OR so sunny as hell and/or pouring rain and/or blowing wind are all possibilities for July).
2. Set up a table for putting some wares on, cashbox, phone/POS.
3. Bring a snack and a bottle of water (though there'll be some food vendors too).
4. Befriend booth neighbors to negotiate bathroom runs.
5. Yes, and?

I'll primarily be selling small wooden craft stuff; it'll be easy to lay some of those out on a table and then have more on hand in a storage container or whatnot.

But another part of what I'm trying to think through is whether and how to also try to display some of my painting work, which is bigger (my smallest painting work is square foot canvases and a lot of my stuff is more like 2+ feet on a side) and a lot more expensive and so not so likely to make for impulse buys compared to the small wood kits. Is there a good, cheap, reliable way to set up some paintings on display in basically a free-standing space where there could be wind etc. in play? Or better to just kibosh that headache in favor of something simpler to wrangle like prints or a catalogue, and just focus on the wood kits as the stuff I've got physically on hand?

And, beyond that, just, hey, tips and tricks for this kind of setup? What little details am I maybe not thinking about as a first-timer?
posted by cortex to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
A charger/backup battery for your phone for sure
posted by littlesq at 1:25 PM on July 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you will use a tablecloth have a way to fasten it to the table and weights to hold down any papers or cards. A crate or two on end will give some height to the display which looks good. Weight them too.
You could bring one representative painting and a loose-leaf binder with photos of others. And business cards for serious customers.
Bring enough small bills and change for cash customers, but keep it in your pocket and possible a receipts pad.
posted by Botanizer at 1:34 PM on July 7, 2018

Please (please, please!) make your prices really visible so people don't have to ask. Whether individually priced or on a 'menu' board or a hanging sign or whatever, it sucks to wait forever to talk to a vendor only to realize you can't afford something - or, if the customer is anxious or socially awkward, they may just move on without asking.
posted by VioletU at 2:08 PM on July 7, 2018 [21 favorites]

Bags with handles.
posted by MountainDaisy at 2:10 PM on July 7, 2018

If at all possible have something for $5. Last time I was at an art fair that’s all I bought: $5 printed postcards. But I bought a few from a few artists and it was a nice way to get something nice and show support and also save their info for possible future purposes.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:20 PM on July 7, 2018 [8 favorites]

Here's the checklist I keep on my phone for when I do these types of events:

Sunscreen (even if you have a canopy, sometimes you end up in the sun)
Paper for wrapping items
Bags in a couple different sizes
Decorations (small plants, pretty rocks, flowers, etc.)**
Bricks (I use these to make different levels for display, or to use with a wooden plank to make shelving; you might be able to use bricks to prop up your paintings)
Scissors (for cutting paper if you don't need huge sheets)
Masking tape
Business cards
Little dish to put the biz cards in
Cash to make change
Credit card reader
The dongle/adapter for your phone if needed
A couple napkins/paper towels

**Making your booth look nice and setting up a thoughtful display will draw people in to your booth and make your work look so much more special! I highly recommend taking some time to gather a few things you can use to make a nice display. I have a little bookcase that I sometimes bring and put on the table; having things at (or closer to) eye level helps so much. Even elevating some things a little bit on bricks, a stack of old books, a wooden box, etc. makes for a more pleasant display rather than just having everything arranged at the same level on the table. At the very least, you should have some sort of tablecloth.

Oh, and you should have something to weigh the canopy down if you anticipate there being wind. I've used bricks for this too. Bricks are a pain to haul around but they've been really useful to me and they're cheap, plus after you lug them around at a few of these things you will get totally ripped.
posted by kitty teeth at 2:31 PM on July 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

lay some of those out on a table and then have more on hand in a storage container or whatnot.

Yes for your smaller items, maybe have dedicated examples to be the Display or Demo Models (pieces and box) that can be picked up by various folks (the models aren't for sale, or are sold at a discount if everything else sells). And since your kits have small pieces, keep them in some sort of display device that allows you to show them off but not get lost easily. Low tech examples: deep-ish tray or a baking tray; anything that minimizes pieces falling and getting lost. If it's really windy, maybe something clear to cover them.

You could also have a separate non-demo set that shows all the pieces fit together neatly.

Of course write or label "Display" or "Demo" on the corresponding box so it doesn't get mixed in with regular sets if/when you have to package up the display set again. The rest of the inventory out of reach except for you, although they could go into a transparent plastic container so people know how many you have left (if you want to display that too).

Some good suggestions in this previous AskMe (from exactly 5 years, 1 week ago): Everything I need to know about doing an art fair booth? from notsnot, which has more links to previous Asks.

There's mention there or in one of its linked threads about having something to do, if possible, so that when someone comes by and browses, they don't feel like they're being watched intently. I appreciate that one.

Also another from a couple years ago: Plan a Booth for a Craft/Art Marketplace from robocop is bleeding.

I know a lot of people do business cards -- personally (as an attendee; I've not organized this type of thing myself) I prefer flyers (even a simple 8.5x11" one-sheet, or a half-sheet) with the seller's logo / pictures of products / ordering and contact info on it, because business cards are much easier to lose. It doesn't even have to be in color. This also might be geared toward events such as "Thanks for stopping by my table!" and, if you have time to do this, maybe sign "cortex" on it in a bold color for a personal touch. I suppose if you want to make these things more usable on a larger scale, you can just say something like "Thank you for your interest!" instead of mentioning the table, and that way you can also insert the flyers into the bags, leave some on the table, and also use them when fulfilling mail orders. Or maybe you already have something like this.

A super clear sign for you / your Etsy store name and that they can order stuff there later, too. What kinds of payments are accepted, and what the return policy is (even if there is none and it's "all sales final, no returns").

A checklist/inventory of what you are taking with you, and how many, especially in terms of the wares for sale. Then do a comparison after the event is over.

Good luck!
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 2:33 PM on July 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Don't you have an easel? You can put something on that, if nothing else. The little things lure people in and keep you going to art fairs. Eventually people who go to neighborhood art fairs and such have seen your paintings enough that they get around to buying one from you.

From what I've seen, prints are bread-and-butter and the paintings sell occasionally. The popular paintings vendor I am remembering from elsewhere had vertical displays, and then a few waist-high hanging file folders you could rummage through to find prints of various sizes (many of which were matted).

I sold art just for fun a few times in a small town. I had a 3-ring binder with sleeves with copies of my art for people to flip through, and a few things in thrift store frames. I felt like I was clearly an amateur, but then I skipped town and moved onto other things. People liked to flip through the binder and look at all the art, but then what they actually bought was the abundance of ugly homemade soap I was trying to offload.

Head down to the Saturday Market if you haven't already and take a look at how everyone else is displaying and selling their wares. Chat with them, ask questions. Have fun!
posted by aniola at 3:11 PM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Addendum: Extra price stickers. I try to price everything beforehand so it's one less thing I have to worry about the day of, but it's good to have extras in case a sticker falls off or you decide to change the price of something.
posted by kitty teeth at 3:12 PM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

A sign can be eye catching if someone is far away and your product is small. Business cards if someone is really excited about your work and you want them to find you online.

Seconding people who say to use a box or small shelf for a multi-level display to increase visual interest. I also strongly suggest a tablecloth (weighted!); it just makes everything look neat and tidy.

If you have a friend who can come by at some point and spell you for even 10 or 15 minutes--you might not need it, but you might really want a bathroom break/have forgotten the scotch tape/want to check out that cool booth down at the end of the row.

Bring more water than you think you need.

I will say, I have found that having two tables set up in an L shape allows me to do a nicer display, field more people, and give people more room to browse without feeling like I'm hovering. But then, I'm not selling at my booth; I'm tabling for a community group, and we do activities and giveaways. So it's not exactly the same.

Good luck! It sounds like a lot of fun.
posted by gideonfrog at 3:45 PM on July 7, 2018

Do not just put your stuff on the table. It's completely unappealing. You have to merchandise. Get a table cloth, get some wooden boxes. put two on each end of the table. Display your stuff both in the boxes and on top of the boxes and propped against the boxes if that works. Then lay out stuff between the boxes on the table, probably just like you had planned.

The key word here is height. We are looking for some height. It doesn't have to be as elaborate as these but it has to be something. So at a bare minimum (and bare minimum is fine) I'd say table cloth, display boxes, business cards, and I dunno if you need bags.

Tips: PRICE EVERYTHING. People will not ask, people will not read the giant fucking sign right in front of their faces. Pricing stickers are $1 for 100 at the dollar store. And store everything under the table, hidden by the tablecloth. Bring $50 or $100 in fivers for change. Some people will have cash; I just did a fair where we did two credit transactions over two days and thank fuck we had a cashbox stuffed with money!
posted by DarlingBri at 3:57 PM on July 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I was doing this it was always really nice to have friends stop by. But I never sold a thing and it was great to at least have that support.
posted by bendy at 4:17 PM on July 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’ve seen people do bigger paintings by hanging them from the supports of the pop up tent. Or you can make a freestanding wall / screen thing out of lattice, or just wire a big piece of lattice to one side of the tent, cheap and easy and then you can hang paintings on it. People like to stop and look at paintings. I always bring sharpies, masking tape, duct tape, wire and scissors - and ibuprofen and bandaids. Also bottles of water, tablecloth - need it to hide the stuff under the table, all your bins and so on to transport things back and forth, etc -change and packing stuff. You can set out a clipboard for an email list if you don’t want to screw around with business cards. I’ve used postits for price stickers before, works fine and highly visible which is good.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:02 PM on July 7, 2018

I think you can laser cut yourself a display stand to get some vertical/readily visible display. I will make you a sketch or something - the words aren’t working for me today but I have a clear idea.

But I can in to say ‘tablecloth’ with skirt. Booths without them, for selling art, tend to look pretty amateurish.
posted by janell at 7:09 PM on July 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

In line with the less expensive items: obviously the answer is Menger sponge coasters.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:44 PM on July 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Depending on the distance from the vendor parking to your table you may want to borrow a wagon. It’s far easier to roll than lug. I see them tucked into the back of the display areas all the time at our local fairs.
posted by pixlboi at 8:54 PM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you're in the middle of making something and it's not too big or messy or likely to blow away, maybe do it there. That transforms you from guy selling stuff into creative artist or craftsman at work (who is also selling stuff).
posted by pracowity at 4:59 AM on July 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

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